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Joe M.
Democrat WV

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  • Tribute to General Chuck Yeager

    by Senator Joe Manchin, III

    Posted on 2013-02-13

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    MANCHIN. Mr. President, few Americans have helped this great country reach for the stars more than Gen. Chuck Yeager. Long before there were astronauts there was Chuck Yeager, a fearless test pilot, a true aviation pioneer paving the way for America's exploration of the galaxy. But Chuck Yeager's military career involved so much more than just testing cutting-edge aircraft and, as almost everyone knows, becoming the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound. Few Americans have been as unwavering or as relentless as Chuck Yeager in defense of this great country, in war and in peace, from World War II to Vietnam.

    He was part of the ``greatest generation'' of Americans, the generation that fought and won World War II and then came home and made America the world's greatest superpower. Among the greatest in that generation was Chuck Yeager.

    Today is Chuck's 90th birthday, and I invite the entire Senate to join me in congratulating him. I am so proud of this man. Not only is he a native son of West Virginia but he is also a dear friend of mine. Chuck lives in California now, with his wife Victoria, but he still comes to West Virginia to hunt with me and roam the hills where he grew up.

    He also visits the State from time to time to promote the foundation which bears his name, and which supports a scholarship program at Marshall University.

    When I was Governor, Chuck and Victoria would sometimes visit Gayle and me at the Governor's Mansion. Some of you know I am a pilot, and during one of his visits to West Virginia I got him to join me on a flight. We were trying out a new airplane for the State. It was a real honor, but it was a little bit daunting, if you will, that I am flying left seat and Chuck is right behind me, evaluating the entire flight. Looking over my shoulder, having the greatest pilot who ever lived sitting there, was something I will never forget.

    Some of the story of Chuck's life you probably know and some of it you may not. Chuck grew up in the small town of Hamlin. That is in Lincoln County, WV, so deep in an Appalachian holler that folks there used to say you had to pump in the sunshine. His father Albert Hal worked as a driller in the gasfields. His mother Susie Mae took care of Chuck, his two brothers, and two sisters.

    Chuck and his father went hunting and fishing together. Chuck also worked with his father in the oilfields. He was fascinated by the drilling equipment. He liked cars--real fast cars. He especially liked his old man's Chevy truck. He not only drove it, he studied all of its mechanical details. He could basically take it apart and rebuild it.

    Looking back, it is not surprising that in the middle of World War II, a patriotic kid from West Virginia who was good with rifles, mechanical equipment, and fast cars enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as an airplane mechanic--his first step toward becoming the single greatest pilot who has ever lived.

    A new ``flying sergeants'' program eventually gave him his first chance to fly. Up until that time it was officers only. His first couple training flights didn't go so well. Some people might not know this, but he had to overcome airsickness. Can you believe that Chuck Yeager got airsick? Before long he found a new home in the sky in the cockpit of an airplane.

    During World War II, Chuck flew numerous combat missions over Europe and shot down 13 enemy aircraft--5 in 1 mission. He was shot down over German-occupied France in 1944 but escaped capture to fly another day. But [[Page S676]] before he could do that, he had to argue his case against being sent home under a no more combat rule. The rule was basically if a pilot was shot down, they could not let them go back, because if they were captured, they could basically tell who the people who saved them were. He pushed his way all the way up the chain of command to Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike ultimately granted Chuck's request to stay with his men.

    After the war, Chuck became a test pilot. On October 14, 1947, he did what no man had done before--he broke the sound barrier in the experimental X-1 plane named the ``Glamorous Glennis,'' after his late wife. His fabled flight ushered in a new era of aviation that prepared America for its greatest leap into space and so began the legend of Chuck Yeager.

    Tom Wolfe wrote in ``The Right Stuff''--a movie most of us have seen. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you do. Tom Wolfe wrote: There were . . . other pilots with enough Pilot Ego to believe that they were actually better than this drawlin' hot dog.

    Chuck had a way with words, if you ever have a chance to speak with him.

    But no one could contest the fact that as of that time, the 1950s, Chuck Yeager was at the top of the pyramid, number one among all the True Brothers.

    Throughout his long military career, General Yeager flew more than 10,000 hours in more than 330 models of aircraft. In 1966, he flew 127 missions in South Vietnam. He received numerous awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the special peacetime Medal of Honor. He was the youngest military pilot to be inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1973.

    Chuck officially retired from the Air Force in 1975 but maintained his status as a test pilot for another three decades, occasionally flying for the Air Force and NASA as a consultant.

    In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of his historic flight breaking the sound barrier, he again flew past Mach One in an F-15D Eagle named the ``Glamorous Glennis III.'' It was his last official flight with the Air Force. Of course, nothing stops Chuck Yeager. So last October on the 65th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier, he did it again, in another aircraft, at the age of 89.

    Whenever he is asked about all his exploits, Chuck says he was just ``doing his job,'' and that all he is he ``owes to the Air Force.'' He has never ever wavered from that.

    In his autobiography, he wrote: My beginnings back in West Virginia tell who I am to this day. My accomplishments as a pilot tell more about luck, happenstance, and a person's destiny. But the guy who broke the sound barrier was the kid who swam the Mud River with a swiped watermelon, or shot the head off a squirrel before school.

    Tom Wolfe believed Chuck Yeager to be the ``most righteous of all possessors of the right stuff.'' Wolfe himself struggled to explain what he meant by ``the right stuff.'' His best explanation was that ``the right stuff'' is that rare, almost indefinable mix of bravery, heroism, hard work, and focus that someone brings to ``a cause that means something to a people, a nation, to humanity, to God.'' That describes Gen. Chuck Yeager as well as anything else I know.

    He is a man of extraordinary skill and legendary courage. He has an unparalleled sense of duty and service to his country. He risked his life over and over. He is a great West Virginian. He is a great American. On his 90th birthday he is still, without a doubt, a man with ``the right stuff.'' I wish my dear friend the happiest of birthdays, and I urge every Senator to join me in saluting Gen. Chuck Yeager for his long and courageous service to this great country.

    Thank you, General Yeager.

    I note the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. King). The Senator from Kansas.

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